Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Top 10 Albums Of 2014: 5-1

December 16th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Yes, it took a bit more than a day for me to post the second part of this list. You can blame that on my studying for the civ pro exam I completed today. Four intense hours that basically ruined me for the rest of the day. Since I cannot bring myself to get to work studying for my contracts exam until tomorrow, here’s part two of my favorite albums of the last year.

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5. Julia Brown – An Abundance Of Strawberries

If I were the king of reality everyone would see mainstream pop artists as the vain, shallow posers they are and we’d all gawk at the brilliance of  Julia Brown, a crew of wonderful young music makers who put out this gorgeous album with no hype, no Pitchfork review; just a Dropbox link.

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4. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent

I’ve been listening to A Sunny Day In Glasgow for years and thought they’d keep putting out cool, dreamy albums until everyone just got tired of them. Then they decided to let Jeff Zeigler produce one of their albums and he apparently decided, “you know, it’d be really cool to turn up the low end on this and give it some oomf.” The result was, as Pitchfork accurately pointed out, the band’s best album and one of the best albums of the year.

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3. Nothing – Guilty Of Everything

Philly’s Nothing came out of nowhere (as far as I was concerned) to deliver the best shoegaze album of the year. It also holds the distinction of being perhaps the only shoegaze album to mine Slowdive‘s pretty, cavernous eeriness rather than My Bloody Valentine‘s wall of romantic noise.

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2. Spoon – They Want My Soul

If Transference was the all-over-the-place White Album following Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga‘s focused Sergeant Peppery genius, They Want My Soul is the Abbey Road return to form: 10 songs, more hooks than you could ever keep track of, and everything in its right place.

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1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

I take back what I said in the first half of this list about there not being any clear masterpieces this year.

I’m not really a fan of music that’s too ‘talky’ – and sometimes Sun Kil Moon walks that fine line pretty wobbly – but the purity and depth of feeling Mark Kozelek displays on Benji is so astounding and overpoweringly beautiful that I’m ready to forgive a lot. Being a big city Jewish kid from Toronto, Canada, I often can’t relate to the simplicity and earnestness of ‘real America’ and those who live there in my imagination: farmers, gas station attendants, waitresses, etc. But if one of those gas station workers created a work of art that encapsulates, from his perspective, the tragedy and wonder in ‘the life of man’ the way a Saul Bellow novel or Blood On The Tracks can, perhaps it would sound something like Benji. And it would touch my soul just as profoundly, regardless of our differences.

Top 10 Albums of 2014: 10-6

December 11th, 2014 | Features | 1 Comment

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2014 was easily one of the best years of my life: I finished my time in the IDF, travelled across the US for two months, went on an amazing little road trip to Sackville, New Brunswick (Canada) for the incredible festival Sappyfest, moved to New York and began law school. It was also a great year for music, with a lot of great albums, though admittedly no real indisputable masterpieces like in other recent years. In any case, here were my top ten picks, with 10-6 today, and the other 5-1 tomorrow.

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10. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom

The ‘most hated man in rock’ may have made some really stupid, dickish statements in the last year, but the fact is his music remains some of the most interesting, exciting, catchily-warped stuff anyone’s putting out anywhere. Pom Pom finds him getting even more comfortable recording hi-fi studio albums without losing what made his early tapes so intriguingly weird.

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9. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

It took me a while to get into Cymbals Eat Guitars and their blend of proggy-poppy-punkish indie-rock, but now I’m totally on board. LOSE might be their best album yet, with the band trying their hand at some foreign aesthetics – the harmonica on “XR”; the 80’s drum machine-esque beat grounding “Chambers” – to great effect, while delivering some of the strongest, hardest hitting tracks of their career.

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8. Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy

Frankie Cosmos‘ first attempt at a studio album after over 40 rough little bandcamp collections is a short but very sweet set of adorable, poppy twee songs. The musicianship isn’t quite Battles or whatever, but the songs are just so simple and wonderful. I was lucky enough to buy my LP in Brooklyn from the girl herself.

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7. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Welcome To The Slasher House

Each time the Animals in the Collective go solo they put out some of the most inventive, interesting albums of the year – Welcome To The Slasher House joins  Person Pitch, Tomboy and Down There as another one of those. Admittedly, Avey Tare isn’t totally solo, as he’s joined by Dirty Projectors cutie Angel Deradoorian and former Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman. Together, the three of them pack enough punch to qualify WTTSH as the most visceral, propulsive album yet from a member of the AC crew.

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6. The New Pornographers – Brill Breakers

The New Pornographers never stopped writing great songs, but 2010’s Together had the least of them out of any New Pornos album, and I was afraid the band was starting to head downhill. Luckily they proved me wrong by releasing one of their best  albums yet – if not their best ever- with Brill Breakers. There’s a couple songs I’m not crazy about, like the title track and a boring version of Dan Bejar‘s “Spyder” (Swan Lake‘s on Spanish Gold is way better), but they’re more than made up for with pop euphoria fests like “Born With A Sound” and “Champions Of Red Wine”.

Check back in a day or two for 5-1!

Vaadat Charigim Interview

November 1st, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Originally, Juval Haring, the lead singer/songwriter of Tel Aviv shoegazers Vaadat Charigim, emailed me asking if I’d like to interview him. I told him absolutely, since I loved the band’s music. Additionally, Israel was in the news at the time because of Operation Pillar Of Defence, so I thought there’d be special interest in Israeli indie rock bands who present a different side of Israel than most Westerners are exposed to via the mainstream news.

That was in 2012. I was living in Israel then, serving in the army. However, I would not succeed in conducting the interview until late this summer. Now living in New York, I bugged Juval via email again about a possible interview to coincide with Israel’s return to the headlines due to another and even more intense and elongated skirmish with Hamas, Operation Protective Edge.

After some failed attempts to communicate over Facebook and Skype, we finally managed to get the interview going, with me sending Juval questions via WhatsApp and him answering them via email.

GS: I read online that you were living in Berlin and came back to Israel with The World Is Well Lost‘s songs already written. Did the forming of Vaadat Charigim mark a new artistic endeavour for you or was it simply an evolution of your already existing songwriting?

VC: I came back from Berlin to a very depressing economic reality and mood among young Tel Avivians, who all felt that they’d had enough.

When I was in Berlin I hardly felt the impact of the 2011 social demonstrations, but there were around a quarter of a million people at one point who took to the streets for social justice. By communicating with people back home and reading a lot online, I got a certain general feeling, even sitting in Berlin far, far away from all the heat. A feeling of unrest. Of turmoil. I had never to that point felt that much social/national unrest in my life.

In a way it was a completely new endevour for me , to write in hebrew, to depend less on the “indie cliches” I had grown to admire, and more on communicating a message through songs. Also, at that point I had only played with my wife (drummer Mickey Triest) and her brother (guitarist Uri Triest) in a band called TV BUDDHAS, so playing with two guys who were not related to me was totally strange at first.

GS: So you’re saying that the protests in Israel at the time inspired you to write differently than before? Why?

VC: You have to understand that for the past decade or so “indie” music in Israel, which took the place of the 1990s rock scene, has been primarily in English; it is in some way ‘escapist’ [in its relation to the] Israeli reality in its need/attempt to leap from the tiny market “here” to the bigger international market “over there”.

This need developed, or rather, was always present, within the Israeli art world. Israel has a tiny cultural audience compared to the USA, for example. So when you are making noisy rock music with shouted-out vocals in English, you can probably expect little-to-no attention from Israelis. The more “radio-friendly” your music is, the better its chances are of gaining a level of popularity in Israel, regardless of the fact that it is in English and doesnt smell/look/feel either Israeli-nostalgic, or Israeli-middle eastern. There have been a few hebrew speaking exceptions to the general rule, but mostly Israeli-indie means English and “internationalizing”.

The protests showed me that the general public [in Israel felt a need] for a local, upfront message; the opposite of music that feels “from another place”. In that sense I was influenced by the sheer power of people’s thirst for an emotional proccess in their own language, about their own culture.

GS: You say that the Israeli public needed a  local message it could relate to more – is Vaadat Charigim spreading a certain message? Is it in your lyrics or is it simply that by existing as an indie rock/shoegaze band from Israel that sings in Hebrew you feel you’re making something of a political statement?

VC: I am not saying that the public needed a message and we are that message. There are many needs and many forms of messages, and every [artwork] either has a message or serves as a corruption or distortion of a certain message.

I am saying that there is a thirst today in Israel for a less “outwards-reaching” sort of art scene, and a growing need for a more “inwards-reaching” scene that touches our language, our dreams, our fears.

By singing in Hebrew I feel I am taking something of a political stand within the politics of the Israeli-indie music world, which is mainly centered around English-language bands, as well as influenced by them and in constant mimesis of English language themes and  English folklore. I feel that by singing in Hebrew, musically quoting Israeli bands, and directing my attention towards Israeli issues like war in the middle east, life in Tel Aviv, and the specific sort of depression you experience living in Israel, I am slowing down the process of thoughtless image borrowing that is being repeated endlessly by bands from outside the English-language world as they attempt to ascend in the music business.

I feel it is a choice I am making that is parallel to a choice an artist makes to create art that is to be experienced, but not sold.

GS: I noticed that you not only reference Israeli bands like המכשפות (The Witches) on your album [ed. note: track 8 is called “Mahshefot” in English, an English phonetic  translation of the Hebrew word for ‘witches’], but one of your music videos references the comic art of Dudu Geva. Are these references made out of frustration with an Israeli public and art scene that, as you say, is too often looking out at the rest of the world, specifically America and Europe, while ignoring the treasures and issues at home? Do you think this is a recent phenomenon? Were previous generations like this as well, as outward-looking?

VC:  I reference local art because it is the art I grew up hearing and seeing and it is closest to me.  I can understand having US/UK  influences, and we do have those in our sound (I love the guitar work of Beat Happening, The Feelies and many other bands, and I incorporate those influences into what I am doing) but I believe you need to find an honest balance between local and global. It must be something that an audience can look at and find natural. This is what I am going for as a Hebrew-language international act. Every generation dating back to the 50s and 60s in Israeli rock music has had to find that natural equilibrium. The indie generation has somewhat – though not entirely – let go of that need for balance between local and global in favor of “sounding international”. In Vaadat Charigim, we try to keep that balance be referencing local art/music and representing it to the world, but we are definately not the only ones. There is a lot of authentic as hell stuff going on in Tel Aviv that is just not getting the [attention it deserves].

Re-Evaluated // Days In Europa

September 29th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Skids were a Scottish punk band in the late 70s/early 80s who had a little success but nothing too crazy. I’ve heard their first two albums, their 1979 debut Scared To Dance, and the album of their’s that really interests me, their second, also released that year, Days In Europa.

To give one a sense of context, Scared To Dance sounds like a standard UK poppy punk album of its time. It sounds like it kept the record company happy and the average punks satisfied. Days In Europa, on the other hand, sounds like a totally different band. It’s weird, zany, peppered with a rainbow of synth sounds, and political, with song titles like “Dolce Et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori)” (a quote in latin from Horace‘s Odes: “It’s sweet and honorable to die for one’s country”) and “Working For The Yankee Dollar”. The original cover (pictured above) looks like Nazi propaganda.

The fact that the album was remixed and rereleased with a different cover and tracklist leads one to imagine that the label was not so crazy about the band’s newfound audacity. But of course, all this made for a really great album. Musically and vocally this is still the same average late 70s/early 80s punk band as the one on Scared To Dance, but the songs and production are not so much a huge step up as simply way more interesting. And about 30 years later Days In Europa is still interesting, though perhaps in our age of extreme and widespread experimentalism what once sounded weird now just sounds cool.

The last track, “Peaceful Times”, is both the most innovative and the best track on the album. It’s a weird dirge with backwards vocals and drums (or at least cymbals or something) and spoken word verses.  It’s at once catchy, cut-up and uplifting in the way a lot of Remain In Light is, though unfortunately Skids didn’t have Brian Eno producing. I can’t imagine the ruffians  at the time replaying it much, but by virtue of its fearlessness, it’s really the most punk track on the album.

Obscurity Points // Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

September 21st, 2014 | Features | 2 Comments

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There are many for whom this J-Pop sensation is the farthest thing from obscurity. Most of them, however, live in Japan. Or live in their own American-Otaku cultural bubble that resembles a cartoonish version of Japan. Otherwise, as we all know in North America, it’s not good unless it’s in English, right?

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a Japanese pop star, but more importantly, she’s exactly what North Americans would expect a Japanese pop star to be like: she looks and sounds like a highly sexualized 14-year-old; her songs are super poppy and high energy; her videos and lyrics are colorful and completely absurd in the way only the Japanese can be; and both her music and videos nod often at anime and video games. But it’s also all incredibly enjoyable. Her best songs seem to just explode with gorgeous pop hooks, and the production is big, beautiful and bright, but not in the soul-less way that American pop is. It also all sounds very tongue in cheek, like these writers and producers try each time to see how saccharine and wacky they can make a song and have it still be a hit.

So far, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has released three full albums. I haven’t heard her first, 2012’s Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, but her last two, 2013’s Nanda Collection (my favourite) and this year’s Pikapika Fantajin, are both fairly consistent collections of Japanese pop craziness. For the last two weeks they’ve dominated the soundtrack of my workouts.

Beyond Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I don’t really know any J or K-Pop, but if any has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. And if you haven’t heard any kind of pop preceded by the first letter of an Asian country, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is probably a great place to start.